The age-old question of whether it’s what you know, or who you know, that determines success has received a 21st Century spin, courtesy of LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman.

In a recent episode of Business Insider’s podcast Success! How I Did It, Hoffman shed light on the driving forces behind the globally popular social network that he helped to create. “The notion of getting everybody better enabled through their network to maximise their economic opportunity is part of how you really advance society,” he said. “Some people approach it as professional networking – eg, I walk up to people at cocktail parties and hand them my business card and try to explain [as if I were] cold-calling them why it’s great to do business with me, and we enable that.”

The interviewer points out that Hoffman’s own networking has yielded some extraordinary results, putting him right at the heart of progressive political circles where he established himself as a notable supporter of Hillary Clinton. Unsurprisingly, then, Hoffman believes that having a business “masterplan” is not as important as having “as strong a network as possible, because that's the thing that most catapults you, in terms of your capabilities, in terms of your abilities to do things.”

Hoffman also notes: “It’s much better to get an introduction – a warm connection – than it is to cold-call. Sometimes cold-calls are all that’s available to you. But when I’m introduced to somebody, it’s like, ‘Oh – this person has known this person for a while; they’re trustworthy, they’re good to do business with, they’re really committed to the long game, and playing it out.’ And so my general advice to entrepreneurs is to figure out how to get a warm introduction.”

What are the best ways for leaders – particularly at enterprise stage – to acquire those very introductions? And which other approaches must they bear in mind that will set the stage for fertile and productive networks?

The Institute of Leadership & Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “It is undoubtedly the case that attachments to schools and universities are some of the most enduring in our lives. So it’s not surprising that we often see clusters of people working together who have all been to the same school or university. As such, for those who are sitting outside those readymade, strong and influential networks, they must put in a lot of hard work to create their own. But this is where professional bodies – such as the Institute – really come into play: by offering connections with like-minded people.”

Cooper notes: “networking is about so much more than the speed-dating model that people imagine it to be, where you rush around swapping business cards. It’s about establishing mutually beneficial relationships – which is really the keyword, here. A relationship builds over time. Therefore, if you have a network that consists of thousands of people, there’s a risk that you may not have meaningful relationships with them: there are simply too many to make that deeper investment possible. What people often forget about networking is that it requires time to build that investment – and that the depth of connections is far more important than volume.”

She adds: “would-be networkers would also do well to maintain a certain generosity of spirit – a willingness to put something out there, and perhaps do a few favours without necessarily seeing an immediate return. However, your enthusiasm is sure to plant seeds in your contacts’ memories. So if you’re prepared to take that generous, long-term approach, then of course there will be benefits.”

For further thoughts on how to build networks, check out these learning resources from the Institute